100 Creatives

8: John Spiak

8: John Spiak

John Spiak is a curator at the ASU Art Museum, (he joined the staff in 1994). The California native was heavily influenced by his grandparents, who all lived a short drive from his parent's house. One of his grandfathers worked for Disney for 25 years, his other grandparents had a small farm. Growing up, it was Disneyland, riding tractors or hitting the beach all summer long, all of which affect his current curatorial vision. (Note: Spiak also loves hyperlinks ...)

As a curator, Spiak places emphasis on contemporary art and society, with focus on work in video and social practice. He's given the first museum solo shows to Arizona artists Angela Ellsworth, Jon Haddock, and Sloane McFarland, and presented memorable exhibitions by internationally established artists Pipilotti Rist, Shirin Neshat, and Sean Duffy, to name a few. In group exhibitions, he's engaged artists of our community through nooks and crannies and New American City, co-curated with Heather Lineberry.

With Marilyn Zeitlin, he developed the Social Studies initiative, and has led the initiative since 2008. He also founded the ASU Art Museum Short Film and Video Festival in 1997 and is still acting director.

He also notes the irony (and danger) in his position at ASU -- his dad's an alum of UofA.

1. List five things on your inspiration wall (real or imaginary):
My family is definitely number one. My two children inspire me through their energy, spirit, intelligence and curiosity about the world around us. And let's not kid anyone, the love of my life, the best wife and mother in the world, is also by far the better curator in the family! I honestly don't know how she does it all.

In my career, I also draw inspiration from artists and colleagues.

On a consistent bases, and I guess since I am a curator with an emphasis on works in video, music videos have been an inspiration to my thinking. A few examples are:
Bat For Lashes - What's A Girl To Do?
Sigur Ros - Svefn g englar,
Gary Jules - Mad World,
OK Go - End Love,
Fatboy Slim - Praise You,
Chemical Brothers - The Test and
Star Guitar.

2. What was your last big project?
The video exhibition Forged Power: Ferran Mendoza, Alvaro Sau and William Wylie. The individuals captured in the videos controlled their own actions by working with their hands and bodies. They did more than just push a button; they exerted human energy and create an effect through the power of their own body.

Retaining the capability of doing work or accomplishing tasks with the use of the physical body, their forged power is a reaffirmation of human capability. The exhibition was the first ever museum show for Spain based artists Ferran Mendoza and Alvaro Sau. It was also the first time William Wylie has exhibited his video work in a museum.

3. What's your next big project?
The project Open for Business, which opens with a big season reception kick-off party on October 8 from 7 to 9 p.m.. It's FREE to attend, so bring all your friends!

Open for Business calls attention to the importance of local businesses, artists, and organizations. Simultaneously taking place in downtown Tempe businesses and an interrelated exhibition at the ASU Art Museum, this project features the work of sixteen Valley artists who address the purpose of each business, providing opportunities for audience members to interact with the physical space of each location and to discover, or rediscover, new aspects of their own community.

There are many strategic partners we've collaborated with on this project, including Scottsdale Public Art. Kirstin A. Van Cleef, one of Scottsdale Public Art's project managers, is organizing the store front project IN FLUX. The project will take place in downtown Scottsdale during the same time period.

Individuals will be guided by maps available at the ASU Art Museum.

4. Why do you do what you do?
I love the people I work with and encounter through my career and activities, knowing that, through the generosity and spirit of these people, I acquire new connections and inspirations daily. Why would I do anything else?

5. What's something you want Phoenix to know about you?
In 2003, our curatorial team began developing an exhibition to correspond with the presidential election and debate schedule at ASU. The exhibition was titled Democracy in America. You might have heard, or read in the New Times, of a little controversy that developed. I won't go into the full details; if you're interested I am sure you can still find those in NT back issues online.

Due to the story in NT, and before we had even finalized the checklist or installed the exhibition, we were pushed by the former leadership of the College of Fine Art, to which the Museum answers, to "balance" the exhibition. They told us there needed to be more "pro-Bush" art. We were also told one of the works, Phoenix native and ASU School of Art Alum Ryan McNamara's Angry Americans, was too anti-war, so we would need to have an additional piece to balance or it would be cut.

The work I had personally selected for the exhibition had nothing to do with either political party, the works were about voting and election processes: McNamara's piece I felt delivered so clearly the sentiment of voters and the divided, openly hostile political climate of that time; courtroom sketches by artist Betty Wells documenting important historical events where innocence and guilt were voted upon; Jon Haddock's 98-107 piece about the almost unanimous yes vote for the Patriot Act by Congress.

The exhibition had already been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal in positive ways and we really wanted to make it happen. But do you know how hard it was in 2004 to find an artist doing "pro-Bush" art?

I fought extremely hard to keep McNamara's piece in the exhibition, but in the end it was cut by the powers that be - the only piece from the original working checklist not to appear in the final exhibition. To make a little statement, I decided to include in the exhibition the "pro-Bush" artwork of Phoenix based artist Barb Ross.

Who is Barb Ross you might ask? A few months prior I saw a show at Eye Lounge, a two person show of Karolina Sussland and Barb Ross, Sussland's alter-ego. As the story goes, Ross is an overly friendly artist who is an apparent relative of famous public television art instructor Bob Ross.

I called Karolina and asked her what Barb's political views were, she informed me that Barb just loves everyone. So I asked if "Barb" was interested in doing a few works that could be included in the Democracy in America exhibition. She did and they were included, empty sentiment and all. The powers that be in the College were none the wiser; just happy they had their "balanced" show. Individuals of the art community who had seen Sussland's Eye Lounge show were in on the joke.

I am happy to report that since that time we have new leadership at the Herberger Institute that trusts our vision as curators and have full respect for the field of contemporary art. It's extremely nice to be supported.

As for McNamara, he's doing just fine. NY Times magazine recently named him one of the Nifty 50: America's up-and-coming talent, his work was just included in the Greater New York exhibition at PS1, he appeared in the September 2010 issue of Vogue and has just completed a collaborative performance piece in conjunction with Louis Vuitton for Vogue's Fashion's Night Out. And for the record, I take pride in knowing we were the first to show his work in a museum, three years prior to Democracy in America in the exhibition nooks and crannies.

6. (and if you're game, what's something you DON'T want Phoenix to know about you?)
Home perms were big in the late 70s. Through my mom's encouragement the trend didn't pass me by. Welcome to 7th grade! And yes, of course I had the hair pick, yet could never prevent it from looking lopsided...

The Creatives, so far:

100. Fausto Fernandez
99. Brian Boner

98. Carol Panaro-Smith

97. Jane Reddin

96. Adam Dumper
95. Mayme Kratz
94. Daniel Tantalean
93. Yuri Artibise
92. Lisa Starry
91. Paul Hoeprich
90. Betsy Schneider
89. Mary Shindell
88: Gabriel Utasi
87: Tiffany Egbert
86. Angela Cazel Jahn
85. Dayvid LeMmon
84. Beatrice Moore
83. Michelle J. Martinez
82. Carrie Bloomston
81. Paul Porter
80. Rachel Bess
79. Karolina Sussland
78. Aaron Abbott
77. Mary Lucking
76. Erin Sotak
75. Greg Esser
74. Matthew Mosher
73. Mark Klett
72. Tony Carrillo
71. Paul Morris
70. Joe Pagac
69. Alison King
68. JJ Horner
67. Kim Porter
66. Marco Rosichelli
65. Heather Hales
64. Amy Lamp
63. Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker
62. Lindy Drew

61. Robbie Pfeffer
60. Neil Borowicz

59. Lynn Fisher

58. Tanner Woodford

57. David Tinapple
56. Casebeer

55. Tom Leveen

54. Patti Parsons

53. Tedd McDonah

52. Mike Maas
51. Chris Todd

50. Monica Aissa Martinez

49. Stefan Shepherd

48. Jenny Poon

47. Matt Moore

46. Andrea Hanley

45. Julie Hampton

44. Ted Decker

43. Saskia Jorda

42. Michael Bergfalk

41. Scott Baxter

40. Carrie Marill
39. Kobina Banning

38. Suzanne Falk
37. Jon Haddock

36. Kade Twist

35. Cindy Dach

34. John Wagner
33. Roy Wasson Valle

32. Sue Chenoweth
31. Patricia Colleen Murphy

30. David Quan

29. Lesli Yazzie
28. Nathan Feller

27. Cassandra Coblentz

26. Matt Dickson

25. Tara Logsdon

24. Gennaro Garcia
23. Tiphanie Brooke

22. Dan Semenchuk

21. James Angel
20. Tessa Windt
19. Mitch Fry

18. Miro Chun

17. Randy Slack

16. Abbey Messmer

15. Jessica Jordan

14. Brent Bond

13. Peter Shikany
12. Carolyn Lavender
11.Derek A. Welte
10. James E. Garcia9. Stephanie Carrico

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Claire Lawton
Contact: Claire Lawton